Walk into any half-decent café and you’ll find it on their menu: Earl Grey tea, that wonderful blend of tea made by scenting black tea with the oil of bergamot, a citrus fruit. Short of English Breakfast and Jasmine tea, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find another tea as ubiquitous as our bergamot-infused friend.
But who was Earl Grey, and who did he bribe, maim or kill to have one of the world’s most popular teas named after him?
The Earl Grey: Charles Gray, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Earl Grey is a special title, created in 1806 for General Charles Grey – the 1st Earl Grey. Charles Grey died the following year, his title going to his son Charles – the 2nd Earl Grey. It was the 2nd Earl Grey who went on to have a tea named after him.
Earl Grey II was a prominent member of the Whig Party, his political life reaching its climax in the 1830s when he served for four years as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
During his time as Prime Minister – the first time the Whigs had been in power since 1807 – he helped push through the Reform Act of 1832, which brought reform to the House of Commons and saw the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire.
Who invented Earl Grey tea?
It’s not certain whether Earl Grey II ever drank a cup of the tea named after him, though one theory maintains that he received the tea as a gift. Jacksons of Piccadilly claim to have received the recipe for Earl Grey tea from the Earl himself, thus claiming credit for pioneering Earl Grey tea.
Of course, Jacksons of Piccadilly may have been the first British tea merchant to produce Earl Grey tea, but they certainly didn’t invent it. Sadly, those who did – the Chinese – are written about as an aside in the history of Earl Grey tea. Their creation is now re-branded as a Western construct, their ownership masked by the Britishness of the tea’s name.
I’ve got another post about Earl Grey coming up in a couple days.
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